Okay, so The Credit Card Insider got in touch with me and asked what I do to maximise my travel experiences. As a pretty new traveller I was struggling to come up with tried and tested tips on how to enhance your trip abroad… In fact I’ve barely tried anything I set out to do! Others have travelled harder, better, faster and longer and I bet they still feel like some days just go by with nothing exciting to report.
I thought about all the time that I have actually wasted! It resulted in a bunch of ideas that I want to try in order to make the most of and enhance my travel experiences from now on.
I had delusions of grandeur, as anyone embarking on an adventure to exotic lands would. I had images of my hair flowing in the wind, as I rode on a bicycle through the streets of Europe in a flowery dress and a floppy sunhat (I don’t even own a sunhat). Part of me knew that long term travel would probably involve more rain, upset stomachs and broken transport links but I was still surprised when they actually happened.
The most annoying thing, though? How easily I get too comfortable.
This month I found myself sat indoors, trawling Twitter and cursing Blogger for counting me as a page view on my own blog, even after asking it not to a thousand times. Until recently I was still eating the same food as I was at home and I’m battling the bitter disappointment in myself for not training to become a casteller, despite the offer being right there in front of me.
I suffered a harsh realisation about my travels, and though I’m proud we got this far, I’m just not doing enough to make it the incredible experience it should be.
So what can you or I do to grace ourselves with more fabulous and unique memories?
Stunt Your Internet Usage
From the outset, the internet is an invaluable tool to book and research your holidays. Use Skyscanner for flights, Hostel World/Hostel Bookers/Airbnb/Travel Republic/Couch Surfing/Mind My House for accommodation and Pinterest for keeping all of your dream experiences in one place.
I’m addicted to comparing things; hostels and hotels, trains and buses, sun and snow. The internet should be used to research your destination, share a few photos or stories and then IT SHOULD BE LEFT ALONE. Admittedly, I suck at finding this line.
First it giveth, then it taketh away.
It’s a lovely day outside and I choose to stay in my stuffy little room, looking at pictures of things I could have easily gone to see… today… in real life. My advice is to cap your internet time, like your Mum used to do when you were 12. Even if you have NOTHING to see or do (which is unlikely) get outside. Something will happen. Someone will come along.
Build A Routine
Most people travel to escape their normal routine but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one at all. Mike and I somehow managed to fall into one. Getting up early is a really good thing when you travel. You have more daylight hours to see the beautiful things you came to see. Unfortunately, we were falling asleep by 10PM and missing all the parties. We thought that getting up early was ruining our trip, so we rocked our body clock a little.
I became lazy. And then I started getting up later, and then I showered later… And theeen I ate later. And then I wasted time on social media. I saw this creeping in while we were in Plovdiv, Bulgaria and it’s pretty bad now that we have no set work routine in Spain. Once the higgledy piggledy shift work is over, we’re going back to early mornings and full days of roaming around!
I was supposed to write a post about Spanish coffee and apply for some jobs. Instead I added a slider to my blog and ate too much pasta.
— Zoe Townsend-Sawyer (@moomads_) July 27, 2014
Which reminds me…
Try Working Abroad
I know I kinda just grumbled about it, but working (on regular shifts) really has been a highlight for me in Spain. We specifically came to Spain to find jobs for the summer. At first it was just an easy way to make some money back and extend our trip by a month or two. Looking back, it was a brilliant experience that I am so glad we took the time to do.
I knew zero Spanish before arriving in Salou. I can now ask our cleaner how she is and tell her how thankful we are that she has picked up our dirty socks, again.
Every day I met new and wonderful people. Locals, travelers, workers and holiday makers, all of different nationalities. Working introduces you to friends that you may have for life, and those friends have friends that have businesses in other countries where you can work for the next winter/summer should you need the savings topped up.
Not to mention the perks of being a worker! 50% off of tickets to Cirque Du Soleil, anyone?
Jobs Abroad Bulletin has an abundance of advertisements for work all over the world, all year around. We’re currently looking at Ski Jobs for the winter season.
Other bloggers have raved about Workaway, a site that helps you find volunteering opportunities. Instead of monetary payment, Workawayers are given free accommodation and usually food for approximately 5 hours work a day. Now who said your CV suffers when you travel?
We’re yet to try this, but we know for sure that the experiences must be unlike any other you will have anywhere else in the world.
Now, everyone loves discounts and free stuff… Amirite?
Offers, Discounts and Free Stuff
… ARE EVERYWHERE. Some things can be found online but most things you come across once you land on the ground. A huge part of maximising your experiences on the road is getting your money’s worth, so that you have more to spend in other countries later in your travels. Spend it all in a week and you’re going home, Buddeh.
We stupidly rushed into visiting PortAventura (a theme park in Salou, Spain) before asking a resident if there were any deals. Buying three packs of sweets each would have given us a discount of 20 euros on each person’s entry! We also lost money on booking discounted train tickets for the wrong dates and leaving our passports behind in a shed causing us to miss our next train. Read the small print (and don’t hide your passport from yourself).
|Sesame Street at PortAventura (the cheaper time around)|
I know I mentioned that the internet is a travel evil, but I can not stress how important free wifi is. Internet is your source of knowledge… you need it to understand where you are and what you’re doing, unless you want to pay Tourist Twat Tax on maps, brochures and guides. Blogs are your new best friend when it comes to researching deals and free days out.
Check if the hostel or hotel you’re about to book supplies you with breakfast or dinner. If not, see if another one does. We spent an extra £1 each per night staying in Hostel Mostels across Bulgaria, purely because they supplied us with breakfast and dinner. That was two meals dealt with for us and at an unbeatable price. We also got to try homemade Bulgarian doughnuts!
Hostel Mostel Veliko Tarnovo actually turned out to be the best hostel we’ve stayed in yet and you can find it on Hostel World and Hostel Bookers. Be sure to compare all of the possibilities.
If the stinky cheese lady is dwelling in your dorm room…
Sleep Like A Local
When you’re getting tired of hostel dorm rooms and you don’t mind splashing out a little, book yourself a room on Airbnb or Travel Republic. I say splash out because for a solo traveler this might not normally be feasible, but if there’s two or more of you, book a whole flat or villa and live like locals! Sometimes, it’s cheaper than a hostel and sometimes it’s necessary to just get a room to yourself… with a wardrobe in.
Our first Airbnb experience cost us just £10 per night for two people in the centre of Budapest, Hungary and it was gorgeous. It was the first place we stayed on our big adventure and I’ll never forget it’s quirkiness. It still feels like home to me.
|Our first Airbnb flat was fun and eccentric|
Some Airbnb experiences come with locals included to guide you around the city and show you their culture. We’re currently deciding whether to stay with a group of students in Bologna city centre or with a family in Castel Bologna, both wanting to share their meals, time and space for a much smaller price than the usual hostel rate for the area.
As well as sleeping like a local, aim to…
Eat Like A Local
Eating in restaurants all the time is a sure fire way to use all of your savings FAST. Eating like locals has not only forced us to learn how to cook without burning things, but it has exposed us to a plethora of wonderful experiences. Shopping for local, cheap meats is best done in supermarkets if you don’t know the language, but whenever we need vegetables we buy it from a market or from Mr Surly at the veg shop. Veg shops and stalls are great because you can help yourself to as much or little as you need.
I just bought three chillies for 3 cents.
Teaching yourself to cook local dishes is wonderfully satisfying and is a great way to spend your time, impress your boyfriend/girlfriend and save some money. This month I’ve really enjoyed paella, mangoes, Spanish peaches and A LOT of chorizo (choritho?).
But eating like a local doesn’t mean eating in all the time. Enjoy your street food. DO NOT FEAR THE STREET FOOD. A year ago, in Morocco, we ate kebabs, couscous, chicken, pittas and sausages from a street market for £6 each. It was a feast that included a bottle of water and complimentary Mint Tea. We lived to tell the tale.
|SO MUCH KEBABS|
Similarly to street food, don’t be put off of public transport…
Travel Like A Local
To our surprise, public transport in other parts of Europe has been way better than anything we were used to in England. Overlanding is cheap and rewards you with some of the most breathtaking views of the country you have flown all the way out there to see.
Don’t miss it all by flying straight over it again (unless that option is considerably cheaper).
I feel I might be a little biased in favor of public transport here as I’m yet to have shared a seat with a chicken, but until then, European buses rule. Some of them even have wifi!
We met a guy who used hitch hiking as a normal means of transport. I’m not sure I’m up to this yet (embarrassingly so as I think he was younger than us) but maybe the day will come. Hitch hiking, eh? What an adventure!
When you’re not traveling from A to B…
Spend Time With People
As a travelling couple it’s really easy to just spend time with each other and forget to enjoy everyone else’s company. It’s easier to buy a box of wine and sit indoors watching the Game of Thrones series from the start again.
Half the fun of travelling (and life!) is talking with people with whom you have things in common.
If you’re particularly reclusive (like I am) you can try to coincide your travel destinations and dates with people you know from home. In the year since leaving home, I suspect I will have seen more of my parents than I ever did in the year living there! I absolutely love planning things for when people visit us and I’m excited to see what Mum and Dad have in store for us in Malta later this month.
If no one from home is travelling out to see you and your hostel is full of miserable old farts, try signing up to Couchsurfing and looking for events in the area. Peterborough, UK has a monthly meet up for couch surfers in town, where you can go and chill amongst like minded people.
However, just because they’re doing it, doesn’t mean you have to…
You Don’t Need To See The Big Sights
Sure, I bet the Eiffel Tower is nice. I mean, La Sagrada Familia is swell, but if it’s not in your budget, just admire it from outside and make a note to visit again when you’ve won the lottery. From another angle, don’t feel that you have to see something JUST BECAUSE a guide book says it’s a must see or a fellow traveller says you’re mad not to go. If you’re not that interested in modern art don’t bother wasting your money. Spend that money on something that really means something to you…
|… Like a snail parade with a mobile beer tap|
Everyone has different tastes and hobbies and likes and desires. Why should everybody like the same landmark or monument? If you’re looking for something that might not be famous enough to make it into guide books try Atlas Obscura. You can put in your location (or your destination) and it will bring up weird and wonderful things that you otherwise might have missed.
I’m really bad at this. In fact there’s not much on this list that I’m good at, but I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make. The best way to make the most of your travel experiences is to just BE BRAVE (and a little bit cheeky).
Say “YES!” to the things that scare you. You’ll regret not climbing up a tower of people. Throw yourself out there to be judged and ridiculed. You might make a friend. Use hotel amenities until they catch you. When else are you going to enjoy a swimming pool in the sun and entertainment for free?
Mike tells me all the time, “If someone is not happy about me doing it, they’ll tell me and I’ll stop.”
I guess beheading is out of fashion, so now is the time to test the limits. You’ll never see these people again anyway, who cares if you make a fool of yourself?
Man up and have some fun!
I figure, if you’re an avid blog reader or experienced traveller you’ve probably seen all this before, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I’m here to add my voice to the majority of travellers out there who have likely experienced a sense of wasting the opportunities presented to them. Most opportunities are skipped to save a pound and others are probably down to being shy.
Each person is different, but everyone learns on the job.
The key is knowing when to part with your cash for an experience of a lifetime and how to be confident in the generosity of people (and just how much you can get away with before that hotel kicks you out). Get out here and try it! The world is a big place and it’s full of so many exciting experiences.
Having spent a while analysing my current lifestyle, I can honestly say that I don’t think I will ever utter the words, “I’m bored,” again. We all have so much to see and do!
Thank you for reading and even if the tips are old news to you, I hope you’ve liked my experiences and feelings about them. After this self reflection I feel ready to get back out there and explore the world! Has anyone else ever felt like they’re letting an amazing opportunity pass them by?